You Don’t Have to be Paranoid to Encrypt Files Stored in the Cloud


Get Shift Done: Tips and Tricks

We all trust cloud-based file storage services to keep our data safe from prying eyes, right? Maybe we shouldn’t. In the summer of 2015, an exploit was discovered that let baddies get into Google Drive, Dropbox, and OneDrive accounts without knowing your password. As the ZDNet story about the problem pointed out, “The so-called ‘man-in-the-cloud’ attack is said to be a common flaw in most cloud-based file synchronization services.”

Of course, that particular security hole has been closed by now — we hope. But even if it has, another one always seems to come along. So it’s probably a good idea to encrypt any information we store in the cloud, especially since it’s easy to do — and free, as well.

I looked at several cloud data encryption applications, including Encrypto, which is good, free, and versatile if you use Mac or Windows; nCrypted Cloud, which seems to be pretty corporate-oriented (and again, just Mac and Windows); Sookasa, which has no free version for personal use; and a whole raft of others. In the end it turned out that the easiest and best one is a program I already had: 7Zip.

7Zip is an excellent zip and unzip program that’s available for Windows, Mac, and Linux. 7Zip also does AES-256 bit encryption, which is military grade. Maybe the NSA or the Russian government can crack it, but the putative hacker sitting on his bed in his mother’s basement almost certainly cannot.

Best of all, 7Zip is easy to use. To exploit all this encryption power in Windows, all you need to know is how to right-click and to set a few simple items. The procedure is just as simple in other OSs. And, whichever desktop OS you use, this tool helps you to protect your cloud data.

Let’s pick a file or folder to encrypt before we upload it to Google Docs (or to any cloud service you prefer). For this example, it’s a folder containing a video interview of Linux security expert Jay Beale, along with the art and music used in its production.

To encrypt (and zip) this folder, right-click it. (See the top left red circle in the picture above.) Next, choose “7Zip” in the dropdown menu, then “Add to archive.”

Finally, give your zipped and encrypted file a name. For security purposes, and everything we’re doing here is about security, you might want to call this file “wiggle” or something else either serious or silly that’s not related to its true identity.

Next, use the tiny circle in the top right corner to choose where you want to put your encrypted file. If you skip this step, the encrypted file is stored in the same folder as the original, but with a 7z suffix; that lets you tell the two apart even if you use the original name.

Next, you set a password, shown in the big red oval. Entering the password (and confirming it) is how you tell 7Zip to encrypt this file, not just zip it, so this is a super-important step.

Finally, choose “OK.”

That’s it. You are done.

Your file will now encrypt and compress on its own. The length of time this takes depends on the size of your file or folder; that can be over an hour for a large video file, but is nominal for a regular word-processing document. You may want to send this operation to the background (click on “Background” in the red oval); when it’s done it pops back to the foreground.

Either way, you don’t need to watch 7Zip work. You can go write a limerick, watch TV, or whatever else you like.

What else? Upload your encrypted file to Google Drive, Dropbox, OneDrive, or any other cloud file storage utility. You share the file just like any other cloud file, except your collaborators need the password to get into it. Of course, you should read them the password on the phone or perhaps send it as a text. Never send it in the same email or other message you use to send the file URL. If you do that, you might as well have skipped the whole encryption procedure.

This article warns, toward the end, that your cloud service provider itself may decide to peek into your files looking for evidence of illegal material or possibly for other reasons. Did you read their terms of service carefully? Or at all? In any case, the only sure way to protect yourself from that kind of cloud security breach is to encrypt your files before you upload them. It’s a good thing 7Zip makes it so easy.

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